In early September the 1970 class of General William Mitchell High School is going to have its 50th (+1) reunion. There’s a hard-working committee of nice old people working hard to organize it for us. I appreciate their work very much because us young people don’t have time for such foolish things.

Oh, wait.

I have a job hanging fire right now, waiting for some permissions and contracts and so on, but if all that works out, I’ll be designing a book. It will be the umpteenth book I’ve designed if it happens. The first?

My class yearbook. I thought about that this morning that once again I will be earning money via something I learned in high school. My entire teaching career was not much more (or less) than 38 years teaching what I learned in in Mrs. Zinn’s AP English. Even my business communication classes had little to do with my “book larnin’.” They were a combination of Mrs. Zinn and my years in the clerical ghetto as a secretary and paralegal. It’s not school’s fault. It’s that when you come down to it, skills are best obtained early and practiced constantly…

I learned about designing books in high school. Back then it was far more complicated than it is now. Layouts were done in three dimensions, not two. We had big sheets of paper printed with a pale blue grid. We used T-squares, metal rulers, rubber cement and blue pencils. Photos were cropped in the dark room.

I became editor of the yearbook without having had any previous experience, something that upset some of the yearbook staff who thought someone ELSE who’d been “on yearbook” should have gotten the job. But, the thing is, we had a tryout and I won. The faculty sponsor wanted something innovative, creative, different and my submission for this job captured her attention. Still, I was inexperienced and if I hadn’t had such a group of smart and experienced people to work with, the experience would have been a LOT different.

The faculty sponsor — Miss Cohen — knew me well. I had been her student. Now I know that in life we don’t get many full-on fans, but Miss Cohen was such a person for me. After I graduated we built a friendship that I valued very, very much. “Among my souvenirs” is a note from her I got when I was already living in California. She was ill with the cancer that ended up killing her.

Our yearbook won some awards which was pretty cool. I loved the yearbook. I was proud of it.

The yearbook staff in action…

Eleven years ago, when my class had its 40th reunion I went. It was my first reunion since the 10th.

The school had changed dramatically. At 40+ years old, it was a little worse for wear. The demographic of students attending has changed, too, and it’s now thought to be one of Colorado Springs most “troubled” high schools. I didn’t know this, but during the tour one of my classmates who is in education in Colorado Springs was talking to another classmate about this problem. Our high school, back in the day, was “state of the art.” It was a show-piece high school and it is beautifully designed. I think we were the third class to graduate from this lovely building.

One of the beautiful architectural features is a garden courtyard off the cafeteria. As I walked past the door leading from the cafeteria to the courtyard, someone called out, “That’s her. She was the editor.”

A group of women were looking at our old yearbook. “Come out here,” she beckoned to me. I went out. Another woman was looking at the pictures.

“You did this?”

“Well, yeah. There was a whole staff.”

“But you were the editor?”


“Thank you,” she said. That was the real apogee. ❤

Aussie Pumpkin News

My three year-old Aussie pumpkin seed that I planted as an experiment has thrived this summer and has sent out a girl and several boy blossoms. This morning I helped them accomplish the wild thing. Just in case, you know, the bees had slept in. Cross your fingers it’s successful because the growing season is so short and this is the ONE that might make it to adulthood. Any girls blooming later might not have time… 


Good iPhone, Good iPhone, Here’s a Cookie

In honor of Bear being my dog for six years, I took her for a walk out at the Refuge which wasn’t any kind of refuge. The sky looked stormy. The weather forecast said we had a 100% chance of rain and the wind was blowing 15 mph. I HOPED. I YEARNED. We went…

It was hot. It was muggy (never happens here… but…) There was no wind to speak of. It was beautiful looking, but… In a way it didn’t matter because we were happy to be out there together. We wore our bug repelling bandanas which seem to work. There were the usual objects of wonder (ha ha “usual”) and two Monarch butterflies enjoying life by the trees, pursued (?) by a dragon fly. The problem is that if you stop to savor something, a deer fly will attempt to savor you so…

I was keeping the deer flies off my livestock guardian dog most of the way back to the car.

BUT… When I came home I looked at my “phone of all work” to see how far we’d walked. I was surprised by the amount of data it had obligingly collected about my walking. It was very cool to see all this and some of it was very reassuring.

Walking isn’t always easy for me and I’m very sad and embarrassed by this. Also, a little hopeless since I used to walk very fast and I used to run — almost daily — at least 6 miles with my dogs on the sharp hill trails of the chaparral and mountains of San Diego County. Then when I was 52, things started wearing out, and I got a hip replacement when I was 54 years and 363 days old, another in 2018. Both knees are arthritic and one probably needs to retire itself and go bionic. I just don’t want to. One leg is shorter than the other; THAT leg…

I figured I must have a pronounced limp. I figured I must have shortened steps. I figured a lot of things, but my phone has monitored all this for me in detail. Last night I learned that I don’t limp to any great extent; my walk is “asymmetrical” only by 1.6 %. I learned that my step length is a decent 24 inches. Not bad for a person with a 28 inch inseam. I learned that I have very good balance. I don’t walk especially fast — 2.5 mph — but maybe I do. Out at the Refuge — anywhere here — I stop and look at things very often. My hiking pal taught me that there’s no reason to hurry and she is right. I’m not out there mainly for the sake of the walk, but for the beauty.

I could have learned a lot of this by looking at the soles of my shoes but whatever. The phone is prettier. Anyway, so all this time I’ve been out there, self-conscious and feeling weird about walking so slowly, limping, and all that, and none of it has been the case at all. I’m just another older lady out for a walk with my dog. That is so cool.

Thanks science.

The featured photo is the day. Beautiful! On the way home the Sainted Car Radio played The Who, “Love Reign on Me” and I changed “reign” to “rain” because we need it so much.

Yet ANOTHER Post about Bear

Six years ago today I saw my shaggy bestie in real life for the first time. I saw her on Facebook the day before and Brandi, the young woman who worked at the local shelter, had texted me, “Martha! This is your dog!” or something to that effect.

I wasn’t sure. I had two dogs and was thinking maybe I didn’t need a dog who was likely to grow to be very large. “Do I need a 100 pound dog?” I asked myself. I asked people through this blog, too, and got good advice from people who had owned what this pretty puppy was supposed to grow into — that is Great Pyrenees. The shelter thought she was a mix because of the blue eyes and they really did look like they eyes of my beautiful Lily T. Wolf, the Siberian husky I’d had to put to sleep the previous March. She was 17 years old. ❤

So, I met her. She was in a cage apart because she was on “hold” in case someone came to claim her. I walked toward her. She walked calmly toward the fencing of her cage. We made eye contact. She sat. She looked at me as if she knew me and I brought her home to see how she’d do with Dusty and Mindy when I was free to adopt her.

Now she’s six years old, and these big dogs don’t have long lifespans. Thinking of that this morning it made me realize — again — how much courage it takes to love something, but what a loss if we don’t.

In other news, I have a new book project. No illustrations, just designing a book. I’m looking forward to starting. I decided that while I believe that a handshake is enough to seal a deal, I should grow up and execute a contract. I’m working on that today. It’s a sweet project, the kind that historians love, a book that an old sheep rancher published on his own hook some 30 years ago which now a small, local museum wants to republish.

The way I feel for “the west” is mysterious. My mom could have been a better mom, but she left me with some real treasures, one of them an interest in, knowledge of, and love for this world. I was thinking this morning that though I’m no farmer and no rancher, I’m definitely an appreciator. Farmers and ranchers need fans, too.

The Right Word at the Right Time

I’ve been generally disillusioned and unmotivated, even to paint or even like my paintings. I shared this with an artist friend who said, “You paint the best skies. Paint a triptych.”

I thought that was a good idea since the sky here is endlessly amazing to me and it’s most of what I paint so… I started the second painting in the triptych yesterday using Indian yellow, water pollution lavender, and ultramarine made of real lapis. I worked on it again today with zinc white (the most transparent white) and Gamblin’s radiant white which is very bright, opaque and beautiful. Here it is with the other painting (so far) in the triptych.


After a slowish start, stuff in the garden is beginning to get its groove on, and I’m glad as were on the cusp of late July and, if last year’s weather was a prevision of things to come and not just complete random insanity, it could snow in September. Pearl Buck has sent out her first tiny bean and the others are not far behind. Tu Fu, one of the other beans to have survived spring’s two lateish frosts, is now easily winding his vine 8 or 9 feet high. I’ve put cross pieces for them to wind on, but they want to go up, not over and out.

For the last little while (a couple of weeks? longer?) I’ve observed three baby ladybugs eating aphids and whiteflies on an unwelcome lilac. I had no idea that lilacs are actually weeds that want to create a lilac forest around my house, but that’s the truth. Summer, among other annoying tasks, is the season of beating back the invasion. My first summer here, in my naïveté, I had the big hedge to the east of my yard cut back. THAT, ladies and gents, is the BEST WAY to encourage the invasion. In any case, there was this ladybug nursery. I’ve checked on them daily since I noticed them and it’s taken a surprisingly (to me) long time for them to make their transformation. Yesterday I saw that one had finished and was a full-on ladybug. “See, Martha? Change doesn’t happen overnight!” they yelled from the depths of the nature metaphor I had no way of NOT reading.

Why Write a Blog?

Honestly, I’ve been about to quit writing this blog. There’s been a weird thing inside me, a knot of some unidentified feeling. I dunno. Then, this morning, when I saw the prompt, “break,” I started writing about how disillusioned I am with this place I once called “heaven” and how the realization that many of the people around me would have stormed the capitol on January 6 and how I didn’t want them to be like that. I started to write about how they aren’t how I thought they were.

And then I thought (which I wouldn’t, if I hadn’t written that) “What right do I have to decide how other people ought to be? Aren’t I the person who prides herself on seeing reality straight on?” A little voice said, “You’re really not that person. You’re just like everyone else. You want your pretty picture of things just like everyone else. That’s the whole ‘MAGA’ mindset but from YOUR perspective. You want people to be the way you think is good and they are under no obligation to fulfill your wishes and fantasies.”

Wow. Kick in the head that. And yeah; a lot of stuff in the past year was deeply disillusioning, hurtful, angering, disgusting and those are legitimate feelings, reactions, etc. but EXPECTING other people to fulfill MY idea of who they should be?


Am I going to try to change anybody’s mind? Nope. THAT I understand. We are not living in open-minded days AND these people are STILL the same people they always were and that has always been absolutely FINE with me. Am I bothered that they wear their beliefs and politics publicly? Yeah, I think that’s stupid, but, again, I’m not changing anyone. My ONLY job in this world is to be myself. I imagine that is their main job, too. To be themselves.

So here we are. Another stupid ass learning experience. BUT sometimes it’s only when we write something down that we’re able to see it or think it through. No, WP, I’m still not paying $100.

Not ALL that Hard to Do

“It’s just not working, Tamara. It’s…”

“It’s WHAT Josh? And WHAT’S not working. I HATE this vague language. If you want to break up, just say, ‘Tamara, I think we should break up’. NO, that’s too vague. Say ‘Tamara, I want to break up’. It’s not that difficult.”

“But what if it’s just a mood, a passing thing and I don’t really WANT to break up, I just want a break? Or what if I don’t know?”

“There you go, Josh. Sure, let’s take a break. It’s fine.”

“But you can’t sleep with other guys while we’re taking a break.”

“Seriously? I think if you want to take a break, that’s on you, and what I do is on me. If we’re not together, you aren’t in a position to tell me what to do.”

“Yeah but it would kill me if you slept with some other dude.”

“How would you even KNOW since we’d be taking a break? I wouldn’t be talking to you.”

“What if you meet someone you like better? And then at the end of the break you don’t want to get back together?”

“Josh, that’s just the risk we’d have to take. I mean, what if YOU meet someone, and YOU don’t want to get back together?”

“Well, I did…” Josh’ face turned bright red. Oops.

“Cat’s out of the bag, Josh. So basically you want to do this other chick, but you don’t know if she is attracted to you, and you want to keep me around just in case?”

“Not exactly. It’s more like what if Kirsten and I don’t hit it off? You and I? We hit it off. Hey? Where are you going?”

Scarlet Empire Bean Update

Pearl Buck — one of the three Scarlet Emperor Beans in my garden who survived the spring frost — has lived up to her name. I guess most people who’ve heard of Pearl Buck know The Good Earth but maybe not that she adopted a lot of children or that there’s an organization even now in her name, Pearl S. Buck. She adopted seven children and fostered many, many more. It seems only right that Pearl Buck, the Scarlet Emperor Bean, has more flowers on it than I’ve seen on a bean in my four years of growing them. Pearl Buck was also a very prolific writer. So, not only did Pearl Buck, the Scarlet Emperor Bean, make it through two frosts, but she’s living up to her name in other ways.

I wasn’t self-motivated to learn about Pearl Buck. My thesis advisor, Dr. Richardson, said, when I got home from China, “Why don’t you write a book about Pearl Buck?” It was a good idea. I’ve always been interested in popular literature as opposed to the arty-farty stuff (some of which I like, too). Before I started the project, I hadn’t even read The Good Earth. And Pearl Buck had — this is my assessment based on reading most of what she wrote — never loved anything as much as she loved China. I started reading and writing and, in my old trunk, is a manuscript discussing Pearl S. Buck as part of the Chinese literary tradition. There’s a good case for that, but, really, who cares? It was the first book I ever attempted and most of the time I had no idea what I was doing.

Other people have since written “that” book.

I did have a fancy typewriter that would delete whole sentences if I told it to as well as making corrections. It had a little micro-processor, I think. About two years into that project, when I was living in San Diego near Balboa Park, some guys moved into the apartment above ours (me and the good-X) He was (as was the Good X) a computer guy and he had a Macintosh. “You want to borrow it while I’m in Japan?” he asked one day. “It’ll make your work a lot easier.”

I was hooked.

Still, there was no Internet. Old time research was a lot more colorful and less a matter of finding answers. I did my research in the library at San Diego State and at the public library in San Diego where I found everything I wanted in 3-D form, actual old Asia magazines. I had a nice little file box to carry my 3 x 5 cards on which I wrote notes and quotations. It was a serene way to do research with elements of discovery that no longer exist. It’s really NOT the same to “Google” something as it was to sit at a long library table in the late afternoon with a stack of old magazines from WW II. And, then, too, there’s this.

Pearl Buck’s Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech which I stole from the San Diego Public Library. No one ever said anything about it…

It was from these magazines I learned about WW II, beyond what I was taught in school or the fragmentary stories of my dad and uncles. I learned that the Japanese attempted to conquer China (never learned that in school) and then, in great detail, of the Rape of Nanjing. The magazine was Asia Magazine and its main push was to involve the United States in helping China eject the Japanese. It wasn’t successful, but Pearl Buck and her husband were the owners/editors, and I know from reading through every issue that Pearl Buck was desperate to save the place she viewed as “her” country.

Pearl Buck grew up in China, the daughter of a Presbyterian missionary. There were few trips back to the United States, and China was home. Besides being taught at home by her mother, she had a Chinese tutor. At the time she returned to the United States, she was teaching at Nanjing University.

That she was in the United States at all was the result of a combination of things — but one was the whirlwind of the Japanese invasion of China. Two years after she left, the Japanese would occupy Nanjing in the most horrific way. Pearl Buck wrote graphically about that, an event that may have escaped the notice of most Americans who were struggling with the Great Depression. China must have seemed very far away. Pearl Buck’s impassioned plea for American intervention seems to have been not much more than singing in the wind.

I visited her house in Pennsylvania back in the 1980s. I’d read about her house and how and why it was designed in a certain way, notably that her desk looked out a window onto a Chinese style garden. When I went into her office and looked out the window, I saw what she had done to assuage her life-long homesickness for China. She truly saw “China” through those windows.

She sought a visa to return to China in 1972 after Nixon’s visit, but her attacks on Chairman Mao had made her persona non grata in the PRC. It wasn’t until 1992 that she was “rehabilitated” and allowed to “return”. Of course, by then she was dead, but perhaps the most important part of a writer’s life is the books, the legacy of their ideas, transcribed and shared. You can read about it here: Pearl Buck’s Return to the Good Earth.

But what did she say about writing? That had the longest-lasting effect on me.

“[writing] is a process proceeding from within. It is the heightened activity of every cell of [the writer’s] being, which sweeps not only himself, but all human life about him, in him, in his dreams, into the circle of its activity. From the product of this activity, art is deducted, but not by [the writer]. The process which creates is not the process that deduces the shapes of art. The defining of art…is a secondary not a primary process…for the novelist the only element is human life as he finds it in himself or outside himself.” Pearl S. Buck, Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech

Why I stole the book…